Trent Barrett call divides Eels fans amid NRL return of Mitchell Moses and Clint Gutherson

The Eels welcome back two big-name stars but it has come at a cost.

The Eels are set to welcome back two big-name stars for this week's clash with the Sharks but Trent Barrett's decision to demote teenage sensation Blaize Talagi to the bench has raised more than a few eyebrows. Mitchell Moses and Clint Gutherson will both return to the starting side from lengthy injuries on Thursday as the club looks to fight its way out of the NRL's bottom four.

But the Eels shining light in their recent dark times, Talagi, has been relegated from fullback to a bench role. In the absence of Gutherson and Moses, Talagi has been the club's most in-form player and many fans were of the belief that he may even remain in the No.1 jersey when Gutherson returns.

Barrett made it clear that both players had a place in the 17 when speaking to the media following Brad Arthur’s axing. But instead of keeping both in the run-on team, Talagi will instead play off the bench on Thursday.

Pictured L-R: Trent Barrett, Mitchell Moses and Clint Gutherson
Eels interim coach Trent Barrett welcomes back Mitchell Moses and Clint Gutherson this weekend at the expense of teen star Blaize Talagi. Image: Getty

“Moving forward you’d like to see us fit both in our team and we will be a better side with both of them there, but that’s not for me to worry about today,” he said after taking over as coach. The decision to bench Talagi could also have ramifications for the club moving forward, with the talented local product already a target of rival clubs.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MAY 10:  Blaize Talagi of the Eelsreacts during the round 10 NRL match between Parramatta Eels and Brisbane Broncos at CommBank Stadium on May 10, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
Blaize Talagi has starred for the Eels in the absence of regular fullback Clint Gutherson.

According to Fox League’s James Hooper, Parramatta tabled a three-year deal well over $1 million for Talagi but Shane Flanagan and the Dragons are reportedly seriously interested in his services and are willing to potentially offer even more. With Gutherson ageing and having battled knee problems, which eventually required surgery, there was a push for him to return in the centres to decrease his workload.

However, Barrett has seen fit for him to reclaim his fullback role over Talagi. While that decision isn't overly a surprise, Talagi not remaining in the starting side by shifting to the centres or onto the wing is.

In his Eels debut at centre, Talagi scored an impressive try and Parramatta have looked like a vastly better team when he’s on the pitch. And Eels fans were divided over the decision to replace Talagi at fullback but the consensus was that he needs to be in the side somewhere.

Before his sacking, Arthur put the side's poor performances down to losing Moses, a player who is arguably Parramatta’s most important. So now with him back wearing the No.7 jersey and Gutherson back at fullback against a Sharks side without Nicho Hynes and Cameron it is now or never for the Eels. Trent Barrett is currently leading the side on an interim basis after the club sacked Arthur a fortnight ago.

Ahead of his return this weekend, Gutherson says he doesn't believe Brad Arthur will be out of a job for long. The Eels star, who has been sidelined with a knee injury over the last month, shared a close relationship with his former coach and says ultimately the squad let his mentor down.

"I think any club that is looking for someone or wants to go down the path of a new head coach, I think Brad would come straight to mind," Gutherson said. "He has shown what he's done over the last 10 years. The club was in a bit of a hole when he first came here and we had some great seasons.

"The players and everyone involved loved how he worked and the work ethic he had. But in the end, we let him down, which is disappointing, but we've got to move on from it."

Gutherson claimed Arthur had fallen victim to circumstances out of his control and believes the side's fortunes will inevitably turn. "When we can get that team back on the field and playing all together, I think we'll probably click," Gutherson said.

"It's a great club. Everyone knows that. I'm sure there are a lot of people out there putting their hat in the ring to take over. But we've got Baz (Barrett) here at the moment and that's all we're focused on."

with AAP